Occupation Guide: Sterile Processing Technician
Whether you’re looking for a new career – or have recently graduated from high school – a healthcare profession like sterile processing should be on your radar.
Allied health careers provide flexible working hours and a variety of career opportunities in areas like phlebotomy, cardiac monitoring, and sterile processing. You can reap the benefits of being a healthcare team member without being buried by student loans or spending years in school.
A sterile processing tech (also known as a central service technician or instrument technician) plays a vital role in keeping patients happy and healthy.
Signing up for a sterile processing technician program is your first step to an exciting career in the healthcare field. Read our step-by-step career guide to explain what it entails, the opportunities that exist, and the best ways to get started in this growing field.
What Is a Sterile Processing Technician?
If you’ve never heard about it before, this job title might sound a little mysterious. In actuality, it’s one of the most important positions in the healthcare industry. There are a variety of names for sterile processing techs, depending on where they work and the specifics of their job description.
Some titles you might see are:
- certified registered central service technician
- sterile processing and distribution technician
- sterilization technician
- medical instrument technician
No matter what they’re called, these meticulous individuals are in charge of instrument and medical device decontamination, organization, and packaging. Their job is to prevent the spread of infection by ensuring all instruments are disease-free.
It’s not all about cleaning though. The job necessitates detailed documentation and inspection of materials. Everything that goes through the department must be sterilized and inspected, and the whole process is thoroughly cataloged. Only then can the equipment be distributed as needed.
Where Can Sterile Processing Techs Find Work?
Do you like a fast-paced work environment where continuous customer interaction isn’t required? Sterile processing might be a great career path for you. Working largely on your own, you’ll operate equipment, move carts, and keep daily logs.
Even though you don’t have to work directly with patients, you may occasionally see some blood or bodily fluids. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about (and handle) many types of equipment.
There are a plethora of places you can work in this field. Hospitals, dentists, outpatient care centers, specialty care centers, and ambulatory services centers all employ sterile processing technicians.
As you can imagine, anywhere medical equipment is used, there is a need to have it properly handled by these allied health professionals. There are even companies that specialize in just this particular function.
What Hours Does a Sterile Technician Work?
This position can offer flexible working hours from nights and weekends to weekdays, however, the exact shift requirements vary based on the type of facility. If you’re employed in a dentist’s office, it’s unlikely that you’ll work holidays.
A hospital will probably have evening and overnight shifts available. Since there are so many places to find work, you should be able to find the schedule that is the best fit for you.
Just a Regular Day on the Job
You’re accountable for the health and well-being of all patients since you sterilize the instruments that will then be used in their care. You might start your day by putting away equipment that was cleaned by a previous shift, or cleaning items that have recently been brought in.
Then you might load up sets of instruments that will be used in various surgeries and procedures and walk them to the department they’re needed in.
You’ll check for damaged equipment as you process supplies that come through. Throughout the day, you’ll be recording everything you do and keeping track of any apparatus deliveries you make.
Sterile Processing Technician Salary
According to Indeed.com, the 2018 median salary for sterile processing techs is about $40,000 (over $19.00 per hour). For a position that doesn’t have direct patient contact and has a predictable working environment, this job pays well and allows you to utilize your organizational, critical thinking, and troubleshooting skills.
Demand in the Field
Healthcare is a booming industry, thanks to the growing needs of the Baby Boomer generation. According to The Atlantic, the healthcare industry is the largest employer in the US.
The growth of the entire industry – and the demand for medical instrument preppers – makes this a fantastic career option. The need for sterile processing techs is projected to grow 10% to 14% between 2016 and 2026.
Room for Advancement
We know you’re looking for a career, not just a job, which means room for advancement over time. As a processing technician, you can work your way up to a sterile processing supervisor, which comes with a fairly significant raise. According to Glassdoor the average salary for a supervisor is $52,526. You can also branch out and become a surgical tech.
Steps to Becoming a Sterile Processing Technician
To get started on your way to becoming a sterile processor, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED. This allows you to enroll in one of the many community colleges, or technical schools across the country.
Program lengths vary but tend to be anywhere from 10 weeks to 2 years, though most are between 4 to 8 months. Be sure the school is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.
How to Apply
To apply to a sterile processing tech program, you’ll need to submit an application, provide any required admission documents, and possibly take a standardized test (eg. Wonderlic, ACCUPLACER, etc.). These entrance exams test an applicant’s competence and showcase the ability to complete coursework and succeed in a program.
What You’ll Learn in Your Courses
During the program you’ll study:
- Sterilization methods
- Surgical terminology
- Infection control
- Human anatomy
- Surgical instrumentation
- Safety and risk control
- Disease control
In addition to classroom time, you’ll also be required to complete a clinical internship to gain some practical experience. When applying for jobs, your education and experience will set you apart from inexperienced applicants.
Why You Should Get Certified
While certification isn’t required in all states, it is in a few. New Jersey, Tennessee, Connecticut, and New York require a certification from the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM) or the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD).
Even in states where certification isn’t required, it makes your application for employment far more competitive.
IAHCSMM Certification Requirements
IAHCSMM offers several certification tests including Certified Instrument Specialist (CIS), Certified Endoscope Reprocessor (CER), and Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST).
The first certification you’ll want to sit for is the CRCST, as it’s required to test for the other two, which are specializations. The CRCST calls for 12 continuing education credits per year in order to renew the certification.
The CRCST will show your knowledge, skills, and capabilities as a sterile processing technician. You must have 400 hours of hands-on experience and pass an exam to gain the certification. Your background must cover specific areas, and the ongoing requisites can be found on the IAHCSMM website.
Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution Requirements
The CBSPD offers the SPD Certification Exam, which is valid for 5 years. To take the exam, you need to meet one of the following qualifications:
- Successful completion of a sterile processing training course with a grade of 70 or better.
- 12 months of employment (either part-time or full-time) in a position that performs sterile processing duties.
- 12 months of work in healthcare product services or healthcare product sales associated with the sterile processing profession.
- 6 months in a similar allied healthcare profession (full or part-time) of which part must include sterile processing activities in the SPD.
To find an application and other details for the exam, visit the CBSPD website.
Find a Sterile Processing Technician School Near You
As an up and coming career, these programs can be found at many schools. Do your research, visit a few schools.
You should also chat with an admissions specialist who can answer all of your questions. When you do choose a school, make sure you select a school that has been accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.
If you’re in the New Jersey area, learn more about our Sterile Processing Technician training program by clicking on the link below.